Mike’s Bikes

Javier stood atop the landing of the storefront window, searching the sidewalkers for his boss. After a moment, his eyes caught the approach of his bowling ball of a boss, Mike, whirling amongst the elbows and briefcases of passerbys. He had a milk crate in his hands and was using pressed teeth to transit a coffee cup. As he began his approach towards the shop’s entrance, Javier hopped down and hid behind a stack of boxes.  When the door swung open, a tiny bell dinged cheerfully from its spot on the door.

“Welcome to Mike’s Bikes” Javier announced, popping out from behind the boxes. “How can I help you?”
Mike set the crate on a faded green countertop, and took the cup from his mouth. “What’s that on the door?”
“A bell.” replied Javier
“Well”, Mike said, resting his arm on the counter. “As the owner of this establishment, can you please explain why it’s drilled into my door?”
Javier frowned, and took a sip from a mug. “Ambiance. Customers like the sound, and it makes them buy more things.”
“That’s stupid”, laughed Mike. As he shook his head, he waved his arms back and forth in a crossing motion. “People don’t just decide to buy more things because of a bell. My urologist, Doug Pavlov, once wrote an entire book on that subject; “The Pointlessness of Mind Control”.
“Some part of what you said doesn’t make sense”, said Javier. “Besides, I’m done talking about your urologist. I to know why you went ahead and bought all this inventory.”
Mike held up an index finger and widened his eyes. “It’s a surprise”
“It’s clearly not a surprise.” said Javier, looking around at the boxes. “You bought-“
A blonde man, sporting a bouffant resembling a banana creme pie, entered the store and turned to the bell. “Say, that’s pretty inviting…Hey friend, would you do me the trouble of selling me two bikes instead of just one?”
Javier raised his eyebrows towards Mike. “It’s been like this all morning.” Javier turned towards the bouffant. “I can help you right here, sir!”.
Mike lifted the crate from its spot on the counter, re-tasked his jaw muscles with the weight of the coffee cup, and walked towards the back of the store.

The back of the store was devoted to a workshop, a fire escape obstructed by boxes of inventory, and a meager, cluttered office. When he opened the door to the office, Mike found his daughter, spinning slowly in his swivel chair. She was coated from ankles to wrists in black lycra and had a growl etched into her face.
“Good morning Shelly” Mike said, his eyes fixed on the contents of the milk crate. He removed a white paper bag dotted with translucent grease stains, and held it in the air. “Here. I brought you one of those egg, bacon, and cheese donuts from that place next to the Disco Lounge.”
“First off” she said, raising her volume. “The Debaser Music Bar hasn’t been called the Disco Lounge at any point in my lifetime. Second, there’s no part of that bag that I’d put anywhere near my mouth.”
Mike shrugged, and set the crate onto a layer of papers and arched backward, rubbing each notch in his back. Shelly stared at the droopy belly that spilled from his shirt.
“Oh right.” Mike said. “I forgot that you’d prefer to have the chest of a thirteen year old boy.”
“I think those donuts are doing enough for both of us” she replied.
Mike tossed his arms up, and let gravity swing them around. “Why is it wrong for me to value my daughter on her looks and ability to attract a husband?”
“For too many reasons to count” She said, spiking the volume in her voice.
“Then why have you been sleeping the last three nights in your old bedroom instead of your apartment?” Mike replied, jutting a finger into the air.
She pushed herself away from the desk, sending the wheels of the chair out of their scattered headings and into lockstep towards the radiator, which rattled when the two came into contact. “We’re not having this conversation.”
“Ok, ok.” said Mike, retreating. “Then…is there a reason why you decided to play in my chair this morning?”
“I’m here” she said rising. “Because a huge shipment of bikes arrived this morning, and they’re blocking the halls, the workshop and the fire exit.”
She squeezed the bag of donuts, sending grease stains outward across the white paper . “And while you may not care about long term survival…I do.”
She released her grip and the wet paper split apart, raining breakfast upon Mike’s desk.
“Coincidentally”. Mike added, frowning. “I came up with a solution that will solve everything except this mess you’ve just made. I want you and Bernardinho to assemble every one of those bikes, because they’re getting sold today.”
Shelly’s arms dropped to her sides. “Every bike?”
“That’s the plan”
Shelly coughed uneasily. “I don’t know who you expected to do it, but I’m not spending all day in that workshop assembling bikes”
“Why not?” asked Mike, raising his hands. “It’s good to build something with your bare hands.” His hands were balled up and he shook them in the air.
“Nobody builds anything anymore”, replied Shelly, and tugged at her lycra. “This shirt was polymerized by a machine in Malaysia.”
“Wait. I thought you bought everything local?”, asked Mike, confusedly. “Like those seven dollar carrots you’ve got molding in my pizza crisper”.
“What do you want from me?” whined Shelly. “I’m not gonna just build bikes just because you’re up to some stupid business scheme.”
“No initiative” Mike said, wagging a finger. “These bikes were a good deal. Sure, I had to make the entire purchase in Russian Rubles, but it was still a good deal.” He rose, and wrapped an arm around her shoulder. Shelly’s nose twitched, and she narrowed her eyes.
“And one thing I’ve learned in life”, he added. “Is that money in whatever currency, is a pretty nice thing to have…It lets me run my own business, and it lets me hire my lovely daughter to work beside me.”
Shelly rolled her eyes and planted her feet in a defensive stance. “Shouldn’t your plan have included some warning to the people who have to do the work?”
He removed a rolled up poster from the crate and tapped it on her head. “I’m telling them now. And I’ll be sure to bring up your concerns at the next shareholder meeting”
She turned to exit, and Mike frowned as he caught a glimpse of her walking away. “You know, lots of guys are looking for something to squeeze.” he shouted, and began to unpack his crate.

By the time Mike returned to the front of the store bearing an easel and magic marker, Javier had the bouffant toting a shopping bag full of accessories.
“And since you got the clip-on shoes, you’ll definitely need the matching pedals” Javier said, whose attention began to drift towards the poster being hung in the window. “Excuse me for one second”, he said to the bouffant, and turned to grimace at Mike standing atop a wobbly stepladder.
“What’s going on?” Javier asked.
“We’re having a sale.”
“A bike sale? Today?”
“That’s right, Mike said. We’ve got a ton of inventory and all day to get rid of it.”
Javier put his hands to his hips. “I know we have a ton of inventory. I also remember last week when I told you it was a bad idea to order two pallets of discount Russian bikes. You didn’t listen.”
“What’s done is done, Javier. It’s now time to think about the bike sale, and how many you’re going to sell.”
Javier sighed, and leaned an elbow on a stack of boxes. “You expect to me to get behind a plan to unload all of our inventory in one day?”
Mike finished taping up the poster and climbed down to observe his work. “That’s right. Do you know how much Macy’s makes every year on their day after Thanksgiving sale? 80 billion dollars.”
“Today is not the day after Thanksgiving.” Javier said. And unless “Macy’s” is code for “the drug trade”, I’m pretty sure your math isn’t-“
“Did I mention the prize?” asked Mike, interrupting.
“No. You didn’t.”
“Well there’s a prize. The salesperson with the highest dollar total sold will win the Excelsior Lightspeed!” Mike waved his hand in front of a gold bicycle that rotated slowly in the window. “Fastest bike on the road”, Mike added. “With 24 karat plating and studded with 200 man-made diamonds!”
Javier shook his head. “Yeah, I know all about the gold bike with the tacky C-Z rhinestones. And I also know that you’ve had it for 3 years because it costs $20,000”
“So the price is high.” Mike shrugged. “Limits it to serious buyers.”
“The price is beyond high! The only serious buyer has been Mr. Hallworthy, and he offers to bargain for it every time he comes into the shop”.
A spectacled man drifting about the shoe section looked up. “I’ll take it off your hands today, but I won’t pay more than $19,999”
“Get lost Hallworthy!” Shouted Mike, and turned back to Javier. “I’d rather melt it down than sell it to that lowballing cheapskate”
“Fine”, said Javier. “I have a chance to win a bike that’ll get stolen the minute I ride it out of the shop.”
“If…you emerge victorious!”
Javier rolled his eyes. “Marissa is the only other salesperson, plus you make it sound like I have to slaughter her in order to win”
Mike raised his arms into the air. “But that’s what a sale is all about…defeating and humiliating your coworkers.”
“Bike sale?” chimed Marissa, who seemed to materialize by Mike’s side. “You’re announcing it now?”
Marissa sidled up to Mike and wrapped a muscular arm around his shoulder. She was doubtlessly taking in full breaths of cheap aftershave; a stench that usually made Javier nauseous enough to keep his distance. But Marissa’s abs looked strong and protruded like fleshy speed bumps.
“Yeah, we’re having a bike sale.” repeated Mike.
Marissa took a step back. “But you said you’d give me a 2 hour head start!”
“You knew?” Javier asked, raising his voice.
Mike sighed. “I did promise that to you, Marissa. But I decided that giving you a head start would be an unfair advantage and a mistreatment of my other employees.”
Javier smiled, and nodded vociferously.
Marissa’s face crinkled. “Then why…did I just spend my weekend pulling weeds and mowing your lawn?”
Javier and Marissa stepped closer to Mike, cornering him against the stepladder.
“You’re right, Marissa.” Mike admitted.  “Exploiting you was wrong…Javier, forget everything I just said.”
Mike stepped towards a crack of space between Javier and Marissa, only to find himself pinned between their unyielding stances. “But come to my office in two hours. I have a big announcement!” Mike pushed harder towards Marissa, who begrudgingly stepped aside, sending him tumbling in the direction of his office.

“I’m sitting this one out” said Javier, moving to a stool behind the cash register.
Marissa shot a suspicious look at her co-worker. “You are? Why?”
Javier picked up a folded cycling magazine and began to scan its contents. “Because this is foolish. I told Mike not to buy all that inventory and he did it anyway.”
“But you could win the Excelsior!” she added, pumping her fist.
“I told him not to buy that either.” He tossed the magazine onto the counter, placed his hands behind his head, and leaned back. “So if he’s not listening to me, then I don’t see the need to hang onto every one of his orders.”
Marissa smirked and stepped closer. Her blonde hair was yanked into a ponytail, and it stretched her forehead into billboard of spray-tanned pores. “You look fake even when you’re pretending to relax,” she said, shaking her head. “The minute I turn around, is the minute you start trying to win that bike.”
“Well I’m not.” Javier replied, and raised an eyebrow. “But I guess you’d have to drop out of the sale and keep an eye on me in order to be certain.”
The bouffant approached the register, a brimming shopping bag in hand. “I’m all set. Can you ring me up?”
Before Javier could get all four legs of his stool back to the ground, Marissa had bumped him aside, tipping him backwards to the floor.
“I can help you out with that” she said, snatching the bouffant’s credit card. Amidst her escortion of the man to the door, she plucked a business card off the counter.
“In case you need anything” She said, scribbling Javier’s name from the card. “You just let me know.”
She handed him the card and winked. The man glanced at the card and frowned. “Thanks, but I prefer my ladies to weigh at least 600 pounds.”
Marissa face soured, but quickly shook her frown loose, and turned to Javier with a wide grin. “It feels good to make a sale”
“Even when you scoop it out from underneath me?” Javier asked, pressing a palm to the back of his head.
“I thought you don’t care?” stated Marissa. “Plus it’s only murder if you get caught”.
“What?” asked Javier.
She glanced around the store. “We need something that we can ring when we make a sale.” She thought about it and snapped her fingers. “We should get a bell!”
“We have a bell.” Javier said, checking his palm for blood.
She smirked at the bell dangling on the door. “That’s a fake bell.”
“How can a bell be fake!?”
“No more bells!” Shouted Mike from the back.
Marissa pouted her lower lip, spun around, and zipped towards a wandering customer.

Shelly stood nervously in the bathroom of the store, staring at the screen on her cell phone. Eventually, she pushed the “send” button and waited anxiously as the rings mounted in number. When a voicemail message chimed in, her eyes dimmed. “I know you’re there asshole! Answer the phone!” she screamed, stretching the words out. She then hit the red button, paused, and then redialed. By the time the voicemail repeated, her tone was far more diplomatic. “Look, forget what I said. Just call me back”. She rubbed her eyes and opened the door to meet the raised eyebrow on Javier’s forehead.
“Were you listening to me in there?” She accused.
“No.” Javier said, motioning his mug towards the sink. “But…It would be hard not to have heard a little.” He added.
“I was just…talking on the phone”
“Well, don’t mind me.” he said, stepping past her.
“I hate calling from home” said Shelly, blood draining from her face. “The walls are so thin, and I keep thinking that my dad is listening in on my phone calls.”
“You’re dad? Listening?” Javier said, filling his mug in the sink. “Plus why call from here? He’s in the next room.”
“At least when I call here, he’s usually fast asleep before mid-morning.” She replied.
Javier took a sip from his mug, and swallowed loudly. “I know what you mean. Whenever I got a call from a guy growing up, I always took it into the washroom so Nana wouldn’t know.”
“Taking it in the washroom.” repeated Shelly. “Is that code for gay sex or something?”
Javier chuckled and turned off the faucet. “May as well be. Nana was old school. When she caught my sister getting “the executive treatment” from the class president on Wednesdays after school, she damn near threw her out of the house.”
“What did you do about it?” asked Shelly.
“Nothing”, replied Javier. “I was too glad that Nana never found out about what he and I were giving each other on Tuesdays and Thursdays.”
Shelly laughed, not in a restrained fashion, but one of those dopey chuckles that occur when one forgets how sound. They then walked in stride towards the workshop.
“So” said Javier. “What’s going on that’s keeping you away from your man?”
Shelly opened her mouth, but only a loud breath escaped. “Things are…ok.”
Javier put his hands on his bony hips. “How long have we both worked here? I can tell from outer space when you’re not getting laid”.
“Hey!” exclaimed Shelly. “Things are….not ok.” Her eyes fluttered like a moth and she coughed softly. “But why are we talking about me? What about you?”
“What about me?” asked Javier. “I can find a man on my timetable…and I’ve got plenty of other things that need to be dealt with, like this bike sale.”
Shelly laughed. “I refuse to accept that you would willingly choose to sell bikes over dating….what about going out with Bernardinho”, she said, pointing towards the lean man with flared black hair, hunched over the instructions to a gear set.
Javier grinned. “And what makes you think that he’s my type?”
Her eyes widened, as if the thought seemed obvious. “Well, he’s gay, has the same fauxhawk haircut as you, loves bikes, and wears the same…ball-hugging shorts. Plus you’re both Central American or something.”
“So” said Javier accusingly.  “We’re all interchangeable to you?”
“Also, I’m Brazilian” added Bernardinho with a raise of his wrench.
“No” She responded, and let out a spurt of air. “I just figured that you might want to…get to know each other or something.”
Javier nodded. “And that’s how gay guys operate? Bernardinho and I work together in a space that’s getting smaller by the day, and if you don’t nudge us, then we’ll never cross paths?”
“No” she added, getting louder. “It’s just hard sometimes…when someone isn’t paying attention.”
Javier set his clipboard atop a stack of boxes and took a step closer to her. “Look. If it happens, then it happens.”
She was looking down, but after a pause, she nodded.
Bernadrinho raised his head atop the pile of spare parts. “Plus we’ve fucked already”
“Yeah” confirmed Javier. “A bunch of times”.
“What? Really?” replied Shelly with a goofy smile.

“Ding ding!” shouted Marissa, sticking her head into the workshop. “Made another sale!”
“Oh, is that still going on?” replied Javier lazily.
“Oh yeah.” said Marissa. “I just sold a dozen to the bakery. Well, it was actually 14, but it sounds witty if I-“
“None of it sounds witty”, interrupted Shelly
“Marty’s Bakery?” asked Javier, biting his lip.
“Yeah.” said Marissa with a chime of confidence. “Marty said he was coming by for you, saying something about him needing a fleet for deliveries and owing you big.”
“I should say so” nodded Javier. “After what I gave him the other-, um, never mind.”
Marissa paused, but her enthusiasm kept going. “Well…I told him that I could process the sale. You know, since you don’t care about bike sales and all”.
“Thanks” said Javier through grinding teeth.  “Your commitment is infectious.”
Marissa shrugged. “Keep at it. As soon as you leave this room you’re gonna start grinding up on the next customer.”
“No, you’ve got the grinding part down.” said Javier, who picked up his clipboard and departed.
Marissa watched him leave and turned to Shelly. “So I need those bikes out front, pronto.” she said, snapping her fingers.
“They’re over there.” said Shelly, pointing to the stack of boxes. “And the dolly was taken into the washroom”
Marissa’s enthusiasm drained. “Those are still in boxes. Where are the assembled ones?”
“There are no assembled ones.” answered Shelly, picking up a wrench and spinning it around. “This sale was turd, dropped into our laps.”
“So…you haven’t done your job.” Marissa stated.
“If my job is making your ass look good, then no, I haven’t done my job Melissa.” She picked up a blueprint for a bike, and pretended to examine it.
Marissa’s began to breathe harder. “My name is Marissa…NOT Melissa. It took a marathon of yelling to get it changed!” She took a breath, and added coldly, “I took the time to memorize your name, “Spoiled Daddy’s Girl”, so you ought to learn mine.”
Shelly sighed, and reached for the first piece of reading material she could find. “The bikes will be ready at whatever time will keep you from ever coming back here again.”
“What about now?” asked Marissa. “Can you fit your job into the amount of time you spend here? Maybe do something of value in a work day?”
Shelly and Marissa exchanged glares, and Marissa did an about-face and exited the workshop.
“Who the fuck changes their name to Marissa?” asked Bernardinho.

Javier knocked on the open door to Mike’s office. “Just a minute” answered Mike. His feet were on his desk, and he was using his hand to scrape chunks of donut and bacon onto a manila folder.
“I think this sale is getting out of hand”. said Javier, his eyes still on Mike’s efforts to corral the donut.
“What are you talking about?” asked Mike. He bent the folder into a U shape and began pouring bits of pig, congealed cheese and fried dough into his mouth. “Marissa has sold thirty-five bikes, and it’s not even lunchtime.”
“She’s compromising the work environment.” replied Javier. “I can’t fulfill my assistant manager duties while she’s swarming around the store.”
Mike set his folder down, leaking stray grease onto a pile of sales orders. “It’s good to take the initiative once in a while. The other day, you know what I saw on the bus? A toenail clipping. Some slob was clipping in full view and nobody stood up to him.” Mike sighed and used his arm to wipe bacon grease from his nose.
Javier’s face shrunk in confusion. “Wait. You take the bus? You have a store full of bikes.”
“You don’t get high on your own supply!” said Mike, slapping his hand on his desk. “Warren Buffett taught me that.”
“Well, what that car you bought because you were told Ronald Reagan once ate lunch in it?” Javier asked.
Mike shuddered. “Gas is too expensive. I’d rather save the 14 cents on each mile and take the 43B, transfer at the airport, and again at the other airport.”
Javier shook his head, “Geez. How much is the toenail worth?”
“Enough” said Mike, waving his hand. “Go sell something”.
“I’m not feeling appreciated” said Javier, exiting. “Put that in your file”.
Mike shook his head and tossed the greasy folder onto a pile of trash that rose from the can.

Javier, shoulders lowered, walked out to the storefront to witness Marissa working over a customer. She had him cornered, and pulled off his headphones in order to shout motivational phrases into his ear.
“Buy this bike!” she shouted.
“I don’t want to!” he cried.
As the man tried to step past her, she clamped a hand to his shoulder and squeezed. “You’ve gotta push it to the max! Buy a bike! Now!”
“No! Please stop!” he shouted.
“Do it” she said, “or else I’ll-“
The bell dinged as the door to the store opened. The man blinked, and then smiled.
“Oh. The Kaliningrad. I like these bikes. I’ll take one now, as long as you accept cash.
“That’s good.” Marissa replied, nodding. “Real good”. She then hauled him by the arm towards the cash register.

Javier sighed, and dejectedly approached a woman leading a herd of children.
“Welcome to Mike’s Bikes” he said, his enthusiasm trailing off. “How can I help you?”
“Oh,” the woman said at the sight of Javier. “I am looking for bikes for my kids” she said in a loud, deliberate tone, and pointed to five children, none of whom appeared to be older than 10 years. They were playing a game that seemed to center on taking turns hitting one another, followed by a long and detailed tantrum by each child, outlining in detail the other siblings’ misdoings.
“Well you’re in luck” said Javier, monotonously. “There’s a sale today. I can get your kids outfitted with bikes, locks and helmets for less than $100 each.”
The woman smiled, and continued to speak slowly, emphasizing each word. “That is good, but I also want helmets and locks por favor.”
Javier paused, and examined the woman’s face. She had an expectant look, as if preparing to accept a compliment. He considered expressing surprise that she was able to notice his accent, and feign admiration at her insistence on sprinkling broken shards of Spanish into their conversation. He thought about how she would touch a hand to her chest and laugh, followed by a casual reply about how she managed to pick it all up simply by listening in on her housekeeper’s personal phone calls.
But he glanced down at her handbag, which was stuffed with sticky lollipops, and smeared with melted crayons, and decided that it might be possible that more than one person could be having a rough day. “Certainly, ma’am.” he said.  “Step this way please.”
Within a few minutes, Javier had properly fitting helmets attached to the heads of each child. The helmet-clad children almost immediately began to use any objects they could find; bike locks, shoes, custom handlebars; to test their helmets’ structural integrity. Even as Javier escorted the woman to the register, he cringed at her indifference to the whacking sound that bounced against the store walls.
“Your English is very good” said the woman loudly.
“Thank you”, said Javier, scribbling quickly onto a sales form. “So is yours”
The woman nodded with an air of certainty. “Well yes, but I’m from here.”
“So am I” replied Javier, punching the prices into the register. “Right down the block”
The woman didn’t wait for him to continue. “Well, I don’t know about all your brothers and sisters, but you don’t seem all that bad. I don’t see what all the fuss is about.”
Javier stopped his data entry and took a deep breath. “You know, maybe you would feel more comfortable if you dealt with my associate. Marissa. She speaks bueno English”
“What?” asked the woman. “The sale is over. What do you even call it at this point?”
“Well” said Javier, voiding the purchase on the register. “In one conversation, you’ve managed to insult me, my ethnicity and my family, so I figure to call it void.”
“I…don’t understand”
“You don’t understand.” Javier stated. At that moment one of her lollipopped boys dislodged a kickstand, tipping all five bikes over like dominoes. “And by the way,” Javier added. “It’s a vagina, not a burning building. They don’t all need to exit at once.”
The woman’s mouth dropped open. Javier crumbled her sales order into a ball and flipped it over his head. The ball twirled, and was snatched out of the air by Marissa. “I can help you madam.” said Marissa, unraveling the ball and taking a hand to the customer. “Must be embarrassing” she whispered to Javier, who simply frowned, and removed a business card from the mini-turnstile on the desk.
Javier shook his head towards Marissa. “You brought this on yourself. Remember that.”
Marissa laughed, and proceeded to the cash register with hers and Javier’s customer at the same time.

Javier flipped open his phone and began punching digits. “Hello, this is Javier Herrera over at Mike’s Bikes. I’m calling because we’re having a bike sale, and everything is available at a discount.” Marissa peered above the cash register, watching Javier nod vigorously. “And I can drop it off this evening…Uh-huh…Yes…no…Definitely no…Thank you.” Javier closed his phone and met Marissa straight in the eyes.
“Well done” Marissa said, deliberately clapping her hands. “You managed to sell a single bike on the day of a bike sale.”
“Keep it up.” replied Javier, rolling his eyes. He picked up a clipboard and took it down the hall and into the workshop. Inside, Shelly had a wrench twirling in her hand and her eyes in a magazine.
“What do we have in stock that’s just taking up space?” Javier asked
Shelly frowned. “You mean besides my dad and these Soviet bikes?”
Javier scanned the remaining pile of unassembled bikes. Each frame was stamped with cyrillic lettering and looked to weigh at least eighty pounds. “I refuse to participate in…that” he said, waving his palm in circular motions towards the pile. “What else do we have?”
“There’s a crate of knee and elbow pads that I’m using as a chair” added Bernardinho.
Javier nodded. “I remember. Mike bought them and then decided that padding is for “queers and menstruating women”
“Filho da puta” muttered Bernardinho.
“Well, I think I found a buyer for them.” grinned Javier. “I’ll also take anything else that’s taking up space back here.”
Shelly and Bernardinho exchanged confused looks, and began to unearth stacks of unsold goods; seizure-inducing headlights, bike shorts for the obese, helmets intended for those sufffering from gigantism, and energy gels with flavors such as “mocha mayo” and “salmonberry”.
“This is like a graveyard of bad ideas” stated Shelly, indignantly.
Javier nodded “I told your Dad not to purchase any of this crap. But does he listen?”
“Are you kidding me? replied Shelly. “He listens to you all the time. Remember when he gave away a free blood test with every bike purchase?
“How could I forget?” said Javier. “That was way more hepatitis than a bike store should be handling”.
“Yeah, I argued against it,” Shelly replied, her eyes fixed on the wrench that she twirled in circles atop the workbench. “But when you said it, he listened”
“I spent 2 hours nagging him.” Javier said. “And it wasn’t until the ambulance arrived that he listened to my advice.”
“I think it’ll take more than that to get him to listen to me.” Shelly said, resting her chin in her hands.
“Then try harder.” Javier replied.
She flicked a bolt across the counter with her finger. Yeah…I guess”

Ding. Ding. Ding. By mid-afternoon, the store was consistently filled with customers marching a path through the store. Almost every shopper was carrying something, and many were removing items from shelves without much consideration for their size or purpose. One man hoisted three boxes of children’s shoes, along with the bracket shelving, straight off the wall.
“Watch it” shouted Javier, dashing in to reclaim the shelf from the man.
“It’s alright” said Marissa, who by this point had ceased personalizing her sales pitches, instead opting for an assembly-line method: A punch on a customer’s shoulder, and a checkmark on a clipboard. Many customers merely dropped their cash or credit cards onto a pile next to the register.
“Once Mike sees how many bikes I’ve sold, we’ll be up to our heads in bracket shelving.”
“So you want to earn more bracket shelving than me?” asked Javier. “That’s why you’ve been out for blood today?”
Marissa closed in on Javier, pinning him against the counter. “When I want something, I take it. And once Mike sees these sales totals, he’s going to demote you, and make me assistant manager.” She stabbed a finger into his chest. “And once I’m running this store, you’d better start showing me some respect, unless you want your primary job function to be taking the mop into the washroom.”
“Excuse me”, said a disoriented man. He spoke with an accent, and had a commissary’s worth of energy bars under his arms. “I want to buy more things, but my arms can’t hold any more.”
“Wait over there!” shouted Marissa, pointing him away from the traffic of shoppers. The man rotated and marched towards a corner of the store, banging into things along the way. Marissa spun back towards Javier.
“You’re finished in this town” she grinned.
“This isn’t a town.” Javier stated, and began to walk away. “And I’m not finished!”

Mike was asleep in his chair when Shelly poked her head in. Seeing him in his present state, Shelly dropped a wrench onto the hard floor. Mike convulsed at the sound, and woke up abruptly.
“What was that all about?” he asked
“Shareholder’s meeting” Shelly said.
“Are you here to complain about the bikes?” He asked.
“No” said Shelly, scanning the office. “They’re assembled and ready”
“All of them?” Mike asked in surprise.
“Yeah. I was thinking about it, and I didn’t get a chance to thank you for letting me move back in and not asking why or anything.”
“Oh…well, you’re welcome” Mike replied in surprise. “Are you gonna tell me?”
“Nope” she stated, nonchalantly.

The clock’s hands rotated in several circles, and Marissa held the door open for the final departing customer. “Thanks for stopping by. Enjoy the bike”. With the door closed, Marissa spun around with a wide grin. “Landslide victory” she said towards Javier, who stood silently, arms crossed. Mike waddled into the room and took in the now empty storefront. “Good job people.” He exclaimed, hands on hips. “I’d give you a raise, but what you learned today is worth more than a bigger paycheck.”

“I disagree.” said Javier, shaking his head. “Shall we tally the receipts?”
Mike approached the stack of sales orders and began entering numbers into a calculator. Admist his calculations, Javier and Marissa took turns glaring at one another.
According to receipts” said Mike,  “Marissa has sold just under $10,000 worth of merchandise.” “Boom!” shouted Marissa, pumping her fist.
“What about me?” asked Javier.
Mike lifted a single sales order from underneath Marissa’s pile. He examined it closely, and smiled. “According to this sales order, Javier has sold $19,999 worth of stock.”
“What!?” shouted Marissa, snatching the sales order from Mike’s palm. “Who the hell ordered $400 worth of salmonberry energy gel? Or 100 pairs of Chubby Charlies?”
“It’s not important” said Javier. “The money is in the register and I’m using the Lightspeed tonight to deliver the useful parts of the order over to the bike co-op. And the other half is going to a dumpster by Mr. Hallworthy’s house.”
Marissa, jaw agape, looked helplessly towards Mike. “And you’re going to allow this? He’s got no reciepts, he didn’t sell a single one of those shitty bikes…he’s cheating!”
“It’s not murder if you can hide the body” replied Javier
“He’s right Marissa”, said Mike. That’s why Javier is the Assistant Corpse-Smuggler, er Manager, and it’s why you have a flat, unattractive ass. And I’m glad that the storeroom is clear and that I have much more money than I did yesterday”.
“Well, maybe you should enjoy it while your legs still work”, added Javier.
Mike reached into his pocket and tossed a golden key to Javier.
“What’s this?”
“The key to the bike.” Mike said.
Javier paused. “Bikes don’t have keys.”
“I know” admitted Mike. “I spray-painted a copy of the store key as a token of appreciation.” He stuck out a raised thumb and nodded. “You did a good job, and I don’t say that enough”.
Javier turned it over in his hand. It was shimmery, and left a trail of gold paint across his palm. “Thanks. It’ll go great with my other copy of the store key.”
Javier lifted the Lightspeed from the window and set it on the floor. The light went off in the back of the store, and Shelly and Bernardinho emerged slinging identical messenger bags. “It is a pretty sexy ride” said Shelly.
“Yeah”. Javier ran a hand along the frame and pinched its slim tires. “Perfect air pressure”, stated Javier, and locked eyes with Marissa. “It appears that someone planned on riding it out of the store.”
Marissa crossed her arms and tapped her arm with her finger. “It appears there was more than one.”
“Well, it’s been a long day.” said Mike. “We should all get going before I miss the airport transfer.”
The employees of the store all filed towards the front door. Bernardinho took the knob and gave it a pull, sending the bell into a jingly celebration. Outside the store, however, stood a crowd of people.
“There they are!” shouted the bouffant man, who joined his fellow crowdgatherers in the formation of a tight circle around the shop’s entrance.
“What’s going on out here?” shouted Javier.
The bouffant stepped forward. His head was wrapped in a blood-stained bandage. “My handlebars fell off the minute I made it around the block.”
“I’m so sorry” Javier said apologetically. “It must have been a fluke occura-“
“And then the same thing happened to the other bike”, The bouffant interrupted, as he wheeled up a second bike sporting an identical malady.
“Mine too” shouted a woman with a sling around her shoulder.
“Same here” said a man as he pointed to what was left of a crushed, sans-handlebar bike.
Shelly coughed uneasily. “There must be some mistake. We followed the directions. We even hired a Russian exchange student to do the translations.”
“Probably a good thing we paid him in bikes” whispered Bernardinho.
“What a surprise” added Marissa. “Spoiled Daddy’s Girl spoils the sale.”
“I didn’t spoil anything!” argued Shelly.
Marissa backed slowly towards the crowd. “Of course you didn’t. Nothing is ever your fault”
“No heart” added Mike, sadly.
Shelly looked over in shock towards Mike, who tried to ignore her stare.
“That’s right” said Marissa. “No heart”.
Marissa patted her chest. As she did, a confused look began to spread across her face. Patting her chest again, she withdrew
a padded envelope from under her shirt.
“What’s that?” asked Javier, pointing towards the envelope.
“Oh” replied Marissa, sheepishly. “I assumed I would be appointed Assistant Manager, so I signed for this package. I guess I forgot about it until now.”
Marissa handed it to Javier, who tore it open. Out spilled one hundred lug nuts, along with a note. Mike unfolded the note, and began to read.

Use these lug nuts to hold the handlebars onto the bike. Hope they arrive in time. By reading this letter you waive any legal obligation on our part.


Kaliningrad Bikes

“A store selling defective products,” muttered Marissa, strapping a helmet to her head. “That is truely aw-“
But Marissa’s last words couldn’t be made out, as she zipped away on her bike.
“After her!” shouted a voice from the back, as a chunk of able-bodied riders turned in pursuit. But the chase fizzled out quickly once every handlebar detached from its frame, sending rider after rider headfirst into the pavement. Most of the chasers gave up there, although some of the more committed riders continued on in visible discomfort.

“Let’s get back inside” whispered Mike.
“Way ahead of you” replied Javier, who had unlocked the store, but was presently struggling with his key.
“What’s taking so long?” asked Shelly, amidst panicky breaths.
“The key is stuck,” grimaced Javier. “I think that gold spray paint is jamming the lock!”
As the crowd lunged towards the staff, Javier gave up on pulling the key out, and led the dash into the shop.
Once inside, the staff piled against the door.
“We can’t hold them here” stated Shelly
Javier pointed towards the back of the store. “Into the office!”
As soon as they let go, the shop door flung open from the force of the crowd. The staff made a beeline towards Mike’s office, hopping, ducking under and crashing into anything in the way. As the bell on the shop entrance dinged repeatedly. Mike slammed the office door closed.
“We’re dead!” cried Mike. “All because of our actions.”
Javier and Bernardinho began to prop furniture against the office door.
“I can’t believe you turned on me out there!” Shelly yelled.
“I capitalized on the situation!” Mike replied. “My employee gets caught doing something bad. I disavow all knowledge. It’s capital-ism!”
“Wait!” shouted Javier. “I think they left”
The staff listened in, but no sounds could be heard. Javier took a deep breath and turned the knob. Outside the office, stood a store full of people, silently holding bikes, locks, and anything else that could be lifted off the shelves.
“What do you want?” shouted Mike.
After a pause, a man in the middle of the store raised his hand.
“I’d like to buy that bike” he said, pointing towards an unsold road bike.
“Me too” spouted another person.
“I want these bike shoes” shouted a woman with shoes on her hands.
“I’ll take all your salmonberry!” shouted another.
Eventually the store was filled with chirping customers, each demanding armloads of unsold goods. Mike and Javier exchanged confused looks. Shelly was still holding her wrench in a defensive stance.
After a moment, Mike turned to Javier, and nodded. “Ring em up!”


Future Man


Charles woke up from a thousand year sleep to a finger poking him in the eye. His eyes opened wider to reveal a bright white room with two doctors standing over him. At first glance, the situation looked fairly routine. The doctors’ lab coats were white, with their stethoscopes adorned like necklaces. A machine could be heard beeping behind him while shower-curtain partitions swayed softly to the sanitary, circulated air. But as his eyes focused for the first time in a thousand years, he could tell that something was different. For starters, the doctors looked the slightest bit abnormal. Their skin complexion seemed artificial and caked in makeup, while their eyes seemed distant, as if their minds were somewhere else. It didn’t ease Charles’ tension that the doctors looked almost identical in height, weight and facial structure. After a moment, they both grinned widely.

“Hello and good morning” said the first doctor.
Charles squinted and tried to sit up.
“Be careful. Your right arm is hooked up to that IV bag.” said the other Doctor.
The first doctor put a hand to his chest. “My name is Dr. Smith”. He pointed to the other doctor, who repeated the gesture.
“My name is Dr. Muhammed.”
“What am I doing here in the hospital? Did they find a cure for my disease?”
Dr. Smith nodded. “As you may remember, you were frozen until medical science could find a way to cure your disease: exploding chest syndrome.”
“Which we did! Just yesterday!” added Dr. Muhammed.
So aside from that psychologically crippling scar, you’ll be back to new in time for the trial.”
“Trial? Like a medical test trial?”
“Oh no, your criminal trial” said Dr. Smith
“Criminal? I’ve been awake for 2 minutes. What could I have done?”
Dr. Smith nodded distantly, with his wide grin unflinching. “We’ve unfrozen a number of people from your time, but so far every person has either been a crazed super-villain that’s hell-bent on world domination, or the carrier of any number of grimy and drippy diseases that your millennium has become known for.”
“Indeed”, said Dr. Muhammed. “We’ve already stopped Dr. Doom, Captain Apocalypse AND Tom Cruise in their quests to freeze themselves in an attempt to destroy the future, er I mean present.”
“Foolish 46 chromosomed humans.” said Dr. Smith. “We saw your moves coming from 1,000 years away” He holds up an old newspaper with the banner headline reading “Tom Cruise freezes self in order to seize power in year 3,000”
Dr. Muhammed nodded “So naturally because all the unfrozen subjects from your time have been maniac criminals, and since you are in fact from your time, you Charles, are clearly guilty.”
“But I’m not a supercriminal. And I only vaguely remember agreeing to be frozen indefinitely”
“According to our records, your family signed you up after realizing it was actually cheaper to drop you off at the local cryogenic lab than pay the property taxes on a grave.”
“Tough times” Dr. Muhammed said solemnly, his grin remaining in place.
Charles rubbed his forehead and remained silent for a moment. “So you woke me up just so you could tell me that everyone I know is dead, and that I’m under arrest for being alive?”
“Well, that and we needed your cryogenic tube. We’re freezing a bunch of our supervillians and carriers of our most fatal diseases in order to enslave the future.”
Dr. Muhammed laughed and rubbed his hands together “They won’t see it coming.”
“Then what’s going to happen to me?” Charles asked.
“You’re likely to wind up in jail. There are reports coming out that Captain Apocalypse murdered everyone on his cellblock, so there’s probably a bed available.”
Dr. Muhammed clapped his hands together “Hey, a free bed. Now there’s some good news.”
Dr. Smith injected something into Charles’ arm and he quickly fell asleep. The two doctors watched as robot nurses wheeled him from the room.
“Do you think we should have told him that the pennies remaining in his bank account when he was frozen have now made him the world’s richest man?” asked Dr. Smith

“Nah” shrugged Dr. Muhammed, as he shook his watch and put his stethoscope to its back. “It didn’t seem important.”


Buyouts 101

Will we see this pairing again?...

Will we see this pairing again?...

...Or maybe we'll see this paring again...

...Or maybe we'll see this paring again.

The trading deadline isn’t exactly over. While teams can no longer trade for players, they can sign free agents up until March 1st and still have them eligible for a playoff roster spot. This means that if a team buys out a player’s contract before March 1st, then a contender can try to sign him.

The disadvantage to this is that the players that this historically applies to are older, lower impact players who don’t fit into their current teams’ long term strategies, so they’re more of a band-aid than a long term addition. An example of this is Sacramento Kings. They have a 22 year old power forward named Jason Thompson, and a 32 year old power forward named Mikki Moore. Because they’re not making the playoffs, Mikki Moore will probably agree to the Kings buying out the remainder of his contract for less money, so he can try and win a championship with Cleveland or Boston. Usually Moore can expect to recover any money he lost in the buyout by signing a deal with a new team for the remainder of the season. And if he plays well, this often leads to him getting a better contract offer this summer from a new team who saw him make an impact in the playoffs.

Every team (Celtics, Lakers, Spurs, Cavs,  etc.) can also try and sign the same players, so no one has first dibs on guys the way they did at the trade deadline when teams like Cleveland and Portland could offer Wally Szczerbiak’s and Raef LaFrentz’ expiring contracts around the league.

But there is one more card to play, which is called the “Mid-Level Exception”. The mid-level exception is a clause that was implemented to give teams who are over the salary cap an extra $5 million of salary cap space. It was put in place so teams can still improve a bit, even when they would normally be out of options.

This exception is normally used to sign a free agent in the offseason, but the Cavs didn’t use their exception over the summer, while Boston, LA and San Antonio did. So Cleveland can actually offer more money than anyone else in contention for the title.

So there’s about a 50-50 chance the Celtics, Spurs  and Cavs still pick up one more piece. The biggest catch is  Joe Smith, the power forward from Maryland who played power forward for Cleveland last year and is currently stuck in Oklahoma City. Smith played with Kevin Garnett for a few years in Minnesota, and the two are friends. So we’ll see who he signs with, but Boston needs his services more than Cleveland does, so he could end up being that eyelash that either Cleveland or Boston wins by.

Homeland Security


The first undeniable role of the federal government is to protect its citizens from harm. After all, what is a government if it’s not seeking to guard its citizens? But while many lawmakers are eager to stress homeland security as part of their agendas, they often overlook the versatility of vulnerability.

The prevention of an attack on our country is certainly grounds to mobilize a coordinated military presence, but we are also susceptible to attacks on the weak points in our public health and education systems.

Consider heart disease. It has killed more Americans over the last 5 years than every military campaign in US history combined. The same can be said for cancer and strokes, and relatively, we take these epidemics lightly.

If consistent clinical and preventative medical treatment was guaranteed to every American, if we’re more aware of what chemicals are in the air we breathe, the food we eat, and the water we drink, would we not be safer? The same concern over safety can be argued for the merits our education system, which despite being an issue that George W. Bush emphasized during his presidential campaign, ended up being dwarfed by an interest in increasing military spending.

And as the world becomes smaller, an education system that is only universally funded through high school is at risk of getting overtaken in the tide of globalization. If a master’s degree from a school in India is interchangeable from a master’s degree in the United States, but only 26% of Americans have a bachelor’s degree or higher, then the remaining 74% of Americans are going to be inevitably locked out of entire sectors of employment.

By viewing education and health care through the lens of homeland security, it becomes clearer that wars are being fought outside of the traditional military battlefield. And if the United States wishes to remain a world leader, there must be a collective realization among legislators and their constituents that any country turning out unhealthy, undereducated citizens will never be able to sustain a high level of innovation.

Marcus Camby

Dwight Howard would have his hands full if Cleveland had Marcus Camby (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)

Dwight Howard would have his hands full if Cleveland had Marcus Camby (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)

The NBA trading deadline is less than a week away, and with the crazy financial market, there should be a series of moves coming any day now.

Cleveland is in an advantageous position because they have $21 million in expiring contracts to offer around, but due to their better-than-expected record, GM Danny Ferry has been grappling with the idea of bringing in a new guy into a locker room that has been harmonious thus far. Order for Ferry to feel good about making a move, the incoming player can’t disturb Cleveland’s locker room chemistry.

Fortunately for Ferry, the Cavaliers have one of the few stable locker rooms in the NBA. They have an unquestioned franchise player and a respected coaching staff that has the full backing of the front office.  Only the Lakers, Celtics and Spurs can match or top Cleveland in that regard. They could bring Dennis Rodman out of retirement, let him play every game in a wedding dress, and not worry about capsizing the boat.

But considering how well the Cavs have played, Danny Ferry is unlikely to go for the home run, and he probably doesn’t need to. The Cavs just need one more rotation player who can play defense and distract the opposing defense enough for Lebron to get open. It doesn’t matter what position he plays, as long as he’s committed to defense, Coach Mike Brown will put him on the floor.

The most glaring weakness on the team comes when opponents go with a big lineup. Delonte West is a very good shooting guard, but he’s gets posted up by bigger guys. The easy remedy for this is to slide Lebron down to the 2, but it forces Brown to put Sasha Pavlovic into the game. Pavlovic is a big, solid defender on his own, but he’s an offensive liability, and a terrible ballhandler. Upgrading the swingman spot with a big, athletic guard that can hit shots, is ideal, but the market for swingmen is underwhelming. Plus swingmen often demand shots away from the basket, which could disrupt Cleveland’s offensive rhythm.

Instead, it’s probably better to bring in a bigger guy who can defend the 4 and 5 spots, so Lebron doesn’t get worn down banging against guys his size. Given the current market, the best guy for a Cleveland is probably Marcus Camby of the LA Clippers.

Camby is a great defender and rebounder who gets his points off of put-backs and dishes. His teammates have always liked him, and judging by the double-double he’s averaging on a terrible team, plays hard every night. And at age 34, he would likely play as many or as few minutes as needed, as long as it gives him a chance to earn a championship ring.

Mike Brown has publicly stated that he doesn’t want another big man, but a lot of that belief hinges on giving minutes to rookie JJ Hickson. Once the playoffs roll around though, it’s unlikely Hickson will be seeing meaningful minutes.

The main obstacle to making a trade is the overall incompetence of the Clippers’ front office. Owner Donald Sterling dslikes trades, based on the belief that if a team is offering a player, there has to be something wrong with him. But considering that Sterling is a notorious cheapskate, the prospect of saving almost $10 million by trading Camby for Wally Szczerbiak’s expiring contract might be enough to get the deal done.

A notable kicker about Wally Szczerbiak being the primary trade chip for Cleveland, is that he likes playing for the Cavs, making him likely to demand a buyout from whoever trades for him, and rejoin Cleveland after a month of NBA-mandated rest. So in a way, the Cavs would be trading nothing in order to make a late season acquisition.

This trade, if accompanied by a healthy Cleveland roster, would give the Cavs the best front line in the NBA, and the best chance to win the NBA championship. The Cavs’ major obstacles are Boston, Orlando, and the Los Angeles Lakers, and adding another big man means that Kevin Garnett, Dwight Howard, Andrew Bynum, and Pau Gasol would be guarded by a very good defender (the platoon of Anderson Varejao, Ben Wallace, and Marcus Camby) every minute of the game, while also affording Zydrunas Ilgauskas the opportunity to save his energy for the offensive end.

Bump fouls

Lebron is on the inside of this pass, and there is no clear possession (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

Lebron is on the inside of this pass, and there is no clear possession (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

The standout moment of the Cavs-Pacers game came after TJ Ford hit a jumper with .8 seconds left to give the Pacers a 95-93 lead.

Last night was the first time of the season that Cleveland was put in the situation of having to inbound an alley-oop pass 30 feet into a defense that knows the play is coming. Normally, the defending coach will instruct his team to collapse on the guy rolling towards the rim, and start to celebrate because this play fails 99.9% of the time.

But as Mo Williams made his desperation heave towards the basket, it became clear that Lebron could conceivably score off of this play. The physical requirements of outjumping your opponent and muscling ball through the hoop, while your defender is left with no choice but to foul you relentlessly, fall directly into Lebron’s repertoire.

Danny Granger must have made this same realization, because as the ball went up, he knocked his hip hard enough against Lebron’s for the ball to sail through his hands, and out of bounds. Pacers fans were understandably pissed off by the late foul call, but if you check the replay, you can clearly see the hit. Every contender should also watch this replay, because without a foul or a ref swallowing his whistle, I’m not sure if you can stop Lebron from scoring.

The negative side to this revelation comes with the referees calling a foul with so little time left in the game. On the ensuing possession, the Pacers tried the same exact play, and received a practically obligatory foul call that sealed up the win for them. It’s important to note, however, that Lebron didn’t foul Granger. There was no hip contact, and Lebron had the inside positioning on the pass, so any contact should have at least resulted in a no-call. But it’s the home crowd, and many foul calls are subjective with.

One gem that might be overlooked is that Lebron sunk two high pressure free-throws, either one of which would have lost them the game right there. It’s an MVP-prerequisite play, because I believe Kobe and Wade would have made those.

Michael Phelps smokes weed


Michael Phelps has just earned my respect.

Phelps, the uber swimmer, was caught on film smoking a bong at a house party in South Carolina. But in a display of honesty rarely seen by public figures, Phelps admitted to and apologized for his actions. He did not make any denials about using his monster lung capacity for purposes other than swimming, or even making the easy claim that the tobacco water pipe  he was caught using, was actually filled with tobacco. Instead, Phelps  issued a public apology, acknowledging “regrettable” behavior and “bad judgment”.

But by being honest about making a bad decision, Phelps is being raked through the coals by tiny hypocrites. In a comical cut-and-run decision, USA Swimming, apparantly displaying less short-term than their meal ticket swimmer, has suspended financial support for Phelps, and banned him from US competitions for three months.  And as if operating on an unlimmited administrative budget, the Richland County Police Department has announed that they will consider pursuing criminal charges against Phelps.

“The bottom line is, if he broke the law, and he did it in Richland County, he’s going to be charged,” Lt. Chris Cowan said. “And there’s no difference between Michael Phelps and several other people that we arrest for the same type of a charge everyday.”

Under South Carolina law, possession of one ounce or less of marijuana is a misdemeanor that carries a fine up to $200 and 30 days in jail for the first offense. Possession of paraphernalia is a $500 fine.

So Columbia, SC is going to put public funding into an investigation against an out-of-state millionaire who could raise an army of lawyers on a whim, with the absolute best case scenario being a recoup of $700 and 30 days in jail? The charges haven’t even been filed and this case already reeks of a pissing contest.

But in general, we as a nation have our priorities completely backwards. Phelps was initially praised for being a tremendously successful American who openly sold his fifteen minutes in the spotlight to any endorsement opportunity available. Why does blatant prostitution recieve praise, while apologizing for smoking pot gets you burned at the stake?

In a way, an incident such as this shows how little Americans actually know what they want. Isn’t honesty supposed to be a characteristic that we look for in our public figures? Isn’t forgiveness a trait that we all hope to recieve when we admit to a mistake?

I have been rather vocal about Phelps being the perfect example of a tremendously successful athlete who does not qualify a hero, because he never showed any courage. He worked his tail off to reach the top of the podium, smiled for the cameras, and cashed the checks, but he never said anything of substance. And now, after showing a side of vulnerability, America has turned its back on him.  But I won’t. Michael Phelps was honest when he could have easily lied. And that takes courage.